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Red Returns To ArcheAge: Unchained

Red Thomas Posted:
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ArcheAge is one of those few MMOs that hit really close to the sweet spot for me, and then went real bad real fast.  It’s sort of like one of those really emotional breakups in that it was actually more hurtful than the experience had a right to be in the first place.

There was so much to love with the initial launch in the Western market, and then it just went sideways hard.  With a crushed heart left in the wake of Trion World’s missteps, I walked away from what should-have-been to seek solace in Early Access after Early Access.  None of them gave me the economic rush I was looking for and none could really fill the ArcheAge-sized hole in my soul.

ArcheAge: Unchained is sort of like seeing that ex you fell hard for year ago across the room and laughing with her date.  She hasn’t noticed you yet, and you can’t really figure out if you wish she would or not.  You have these flutters in your chest as you consider whether you’d like to approach her, while your mind is screaming at you that you’re a moron and should abort immediately.

I’m writing the article about AA:UC, so you already know which of the two won out in the end.  If you’re made of sterner stuff and have been waiting to decide whether you want to get back in or not, then maybe this article will help you out a bit.  I’m going to go over the reasons why I think you might stay clear, and then talk about why I’m going to ignore my own advice for at least the next week or so.

Those Bugs, Though

There were a few things that stood out quickly as I logged into ArcheAge: Unchained for the first time and spent my first few hours in the game.  Nearly all of it things that I remember from when I first tried the game several years ago.

Several of the NPCs still speak Korean, which may or may not bother you.  I learned a bit of the Han Guk several years ago when I lived in the country, so it’s a little nostalgic to me to hear the language whenever talking to a vendor.  For others, it could be a little immersion-breaking, though.  I think it’s just one of those smaller things that will bother some people, others will like a lot, and most will just not care either way.

I actually think it looks kind of cool… It’s not supposed to look that way, though.

Something that folks will care about are the bugs, though.  One bug that I definitely do not remember from my original experience is a variable (in the coding sense) for the primary character that keeps popping up in the main storyline.   When you say something, the dialogue is intended to have your name displayed above it as the person speaking, but instead you get what looks like the variable that name is supposed to be stored in.

The truly odd thing is that your name works everywhere else.  Anytime an NPC calls you by name or in any other menu that your name is displayed in, everything seems to be working as intended.  Since it happens constantly in the main storyline, I think this is probably something that every single player has experienced, and thus I’m really surprised that it hasn’t been fixed yet.  Granted, it’s not really that impactful on the actual game, but it’s a pretty in-your-face glitch that looks rather unprofessional.

A lot of other random bugs popped up on me early in the game that were just odd.  For instance, there’s a mission in which the player gets a rowboat, rows out to a sandbar, and then fights some mobs.  Driving your boat onto the shore before jumping out causes it to glitch and bounce around, making a lot of noise.   Not a very big deal until a couple dozen other players do the same thing and then boats are laying down beats like meth-fueled monkeys in some sort of Stanford drum pad experiment gone wrong.

I also experienced a strange graphics bug during character creation and have heard from a couple other people that had the same issue.  The screen loads with the character model missing a face.  Just a couple eyes hovering a small distance above the neck hole in the armor definitely has you doing a double take.  It happened to me a couple times, but I solved it by toggling male to female and back.  You might try that if the bug hits you.

A programming bug has been there since I came back to the game, and still isn’t fixed.

That said, I do have to say that nearly every bug I ran into was an early game bug.  Other than the name issue, which I’ve found easy to ignore, everything else seemed to only be a problem getting into the game and getting started.  After that, the game seems to have run exceptionally well on really stable servers.

Some Design… Maybes…

The main thing I’m not crazy about the game is also one of the things people like best about it.   A lot of folks are going to really hate this position, but I’m not a huge fan of the class system.   There are things I like about it, but it feels like it’s missing the utility classes.   I know that statement isn’t entirely true as I make it seem at first glance, so let me explain a little.

Last time I played, I went for the fire-ball hurling caster type focused on pure DPS.  That worked well for me and the game really seemed to support that style well.  This time, I decided that I wanted to do something more like support caster type of class.  I wanted to either do a buffing character similar to enchanters and druids in EQ, or a debuf class more like some of the traditional necromancer or shaman type classes in several games.

Technically there are combinations of classes that let you do that, but they just feel really lacking to me.   Where Sorcery synergizes well with several other classes, including malediction to buff damage output, there aren’t really any class combinations that synergize to improve crowd control and debuffing.

It leaves a game that’s geared almost totally around offense or defense and sort of ignores that third leg of the fantasy stool.  I know you can build classes and play them that way, but there’s a definite feel that you’re gimping yourself if you do.

A lot of what I’m looking for is in songcraft, but that feels more like a bard class to me and wasn’t really what I was going for.  I’ll probably end up picking up that class at some point to try it out and it’ll probably scratch the itch, but this article is about the things that bother me, and this is just one of them.

More Upbeat

All those negatives and you’re probably thinking I’m not a fan of ArcheAge: Unchained by now, but that wouldn’t be true.   More appropriately, I just haven’t made up my mind yet.  Despite all the issues, there are some big reasons why I’ll probably spend a fair amount of time in the game over the next few weeks.

The way mounts work in ArcheAge and the trading system are two things that are really cool, I think.

First, I haven’t gotten to the endgame content yet, but PvP is where I think AA:UC is going to shine.  The trading system in the game ensures economic activity, and where traders travel, gankers follow.  This sets up a PvP-for-a-purpose scenario that I think makes PvP far more interesting than the generic pattern of players fighting over irrelevant king-of-the-hill type engagements.

Factions fighting over territory and the way the PvP rules for territories ebb and flow create an interesting dynamic that keeps the fighting from being too static, while also allowing traders to extract needed resources from more hostile regions.  It’s a system that keeps the game interesting while still giving players a choice of how involved they want to be, and I like that.

The only question I have right now is around the dominion system and the pirate faction.  Updates to the core game have removed player factions, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.  I like the idea of players being able to carve out their own states, but I also get how that can cause problems for players needing to complete quests.  I’d rather a balance be found, and think that’d be better than tossing the whole system.   It sounds like Unchained will follow along with the other two versions of the game, but the community has encouraged changes in plans before, maybe it’ll happen again.

I’ve had a lot of trouble finding out precisely how the pirate faction will work in ArcheAge: Unchained, as well.  I’ve seen reports that it’ll be capped at 100 players per server and others saying that there’ll be no cap at all.  Trion has a great FAQ about pirates on their own site, but it’s hard to tell how much that information holds true for AA:UC.

There’s been a lot of talk about this new siege system in Unchained, but I haven’t had a chance to experience it yet.  I’m hoping that recaptures the dynamic geopolitics I fear will be missing without a dominion system and player-based factions.  Again, it’s hard to find a lot of good information on it, so I think I’ll just have to experience it for myself before I’ll know for sure, though.  Most of that is excitement around what might be, while still being tempered by general lack of current information on how it’ll be implemented in Unchained.  I am excited to try it out, though.

The updated graphics is a noticeable improvement, but the real question will come down to the first week or so after the land run.  I grew up in Oklahoma and have a few tricks under my belt, though.

The other thing that I really like about the game is how the profession system works.  I really like that the crafting is both broad and deep, impacting a large portion of the game and contributing both economically and on the industrial scale with PvP.   I’m excited to see what Siege Mode brings and how that’ll impact crafters, too.

Labor is a mechanic that we’ve seen in several games now, and it’s one I really like a lot.  Specifically, the way that AA:UC doesn’t prevent you from doing much of anything, but just makes your labor way more efficient if you put forth the effort to get good at something.  That’s the kind of positive reinforcement combined with soft limitations that makes me really excited.  I like it when a game rewards me for playing in a way, but doesn’t stop me from doing whatever I want.

In Summation

At the end of it all, I’m generally just undecided about ArcheAge: Unchained.  There’s a whole lot that I think I’ll like about it moving forward, but there’s also a lot of missing information that could change things for me.  It’s hard to recommend the game without having experienced that.

Of what I have experienced, I think it’s an interesting game and I’ve already gotten my money’s worth in time out of it, so I would definitely say it was a good buy for me personally.  I don’t think the main story is really interesting enough to recommend the game based on the early experience, though.

I think the make-or-break moment for the game will come with the land-grab, though.  When I played before, that was a lot of what killed the game for me.  I love the economic side of games, and the trading system in ArcheAge was a ton of fun for me.  You have to have land to be very successful in trading, though.  Because there was such a huge demand for land compared to the amount of it available, a lot of people either didn’t get any land at all or had it in bite-sized pieces scattered around the game-world.

I hated that aspect of the game and it felt extraordinarily contrived to me.  I get that it’s hard to both meet peak demand and still provide a sense of value in the longer-term as population shrinks back to a more nominal level.  Still, being artificially limited on what I could do like that was so incredibly frustrating, it eventually led to my quitting the game after a few months of playing.

I think that same experience will drive how I think about Unchained.  I get that land needs to be meaningful, but if I’m sitting around expiring claims several days in a row just hoping to be the first to click everything on time, I’m probably going to walk away from the game.  I want to support my guild through industrial might, and if the game makes it impossible for me to do that, then there are several other releases over the next several weeks that I’m highly interested in.

I realize the noncommittal nature of this article is not going to be what a lot of folks were hoping for, but it’s where I am at the moment.  Hopefully you found it at least somewhat helpful.   Let me know down below, and also be sure to comment if you discover any official information on either pirates or how the territory control system is supposed to work in AA:UC.  I’m sure other readers would find it helpful as well.


Red Thomas

A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture.